Random Thoughts On Barber

Posted in IndyCar on April 24, 2017 by Oilpressure

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There are so many advantages to attending a race in person, there is not enough room to list them here. If you’ve ever attended an IndyCar race, there is no need for me to explain that statement. However, one of the few disadvantages compared to sitting on the couch and watching on television is that when you are at the track it is sometimes tough to keep up with everything gong on.

When we have attended the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama in the past, we have usually watched the race from the hill overlooking Turn Two. That’s a popular place because you can see the cars coming off of the main straightaway and taking the huge dip after the left-handed Turn One. It’s so popular that the good folks at Barber Motorsports Park have a big video board along with the PA system broadcasting the radio broadcast. Those two items give you a pretty god idea what is going on.

Yesterday, someone connected to the track arranged for us to view the race from a very unique perspective at the last minute. We went out onto the bridges that jut out from the Barber Museum and cross the track in a couple of spots. He told us that it was the best view in Motorsports. He wasn’t exaggerating.

Never before, have I watched a race anywhere with a view like that. It goes out far enough that you are overlooking Turn Three. You are up high enough to see a good portion of the front straightaway, most of Turns One and Two and the straights that go to and from the area called Charlotte’s Web. The cars drive underneath the bridge as they head through the corkscrew down to the hairpin.

Looking down at Turn Three, you can see into the cockpit and actually see the drivers hands correct as the car gets squirrelly coming off of the turn. Another nice touch are the Plexiglas panels in the floor of the bridge where you can look through it and see the cars go through directly below you. Susan took this video through the glass. As I said, It’s a unique perspective.

I was mesmerized watching the race from this viewpoint. You really got the full sensation of speed. Best of all, as the cars were coming towards us from Charlotte’s Web you could see the passes being set up before they got to the bridge. You had to turn around to see if the driver was able to pull off the pass. Sometimes they were successful, sometimes not.

The only downside was that we could see no video boards or hear any PA. It was old school viewing – just watching the cars and hearing the engines. It was nice, but I really had no idea what was going on. I knew the running order because we could see the LED’s on the side of the car and I could also see the scoring pylon in the infield.

The lack of information did not deter us from staying there. Neither of us wanted to leave. But with about ten laps to go, we reluctantly left our vantage point so that we could take the tram across the track to victory lane. We got there just in time to watch Team Penske celebrate Josef Newgarden’s first win with the team.

I didn’t go through that story to gloat; in fact quite the opposite. I wanted to make everyone aware that such an opportunity exists. You can become a member of the Barber Museum for a very reasonable price and get access to the bridge. For more info on that perks and many more that a membership buys, click here.

I also went through that to let you know why I know so little what happened in the race. Most of you that are reading this know more than I do about the race. But the lack of knowledge was worth the view we got. Here are a few shots and videos from the bridge.

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TV Coverage: I’ve not seen any of the television broadcast, so I really can’t comment. We plan on watching the replay Monday night. If I see anything extraordinary, I’ll be sure and comment at some time.

Chevy redemption: If you are a Chevy fan, there is good news and bad news. The good news is that Chevy finally won their first race of the season and dominated most of the practice sessions. The bad news is that the two Chevy teams that were not Team Penske had terrible weekends. Team Penske cars were at the top of the speed charts in practice and in qualifying. Josef Newgarden was the only Penske driver that didn’t make it into the Firestone Fast Six, and he won the race.

After the race, Scott Dixon said that the Chevy aero kit for tacks like Barber was so strong that he knew the Hondas would be at a disadvantage. He should know since he drove cars wearing the Chevy aero kits for the past two seasons before Chip Ganassi Racing switched back to Honda this season.

Is it a Chevy advantage or a Penske advantage? Team Penske has won five of the eight races at Barber. Ganassi has won none. Josef Newgarden became the fourth Penske driver to win at Barber since the inaugural race in 2010, joining Helio Castroneves, Will Power (twice) and Simon Pagenaud. Even going into the race, every Penske driver had won at least one race at Barber. That might indicate that Penske was going to be strong at this track and they were.

But what about the other Chevy teams? The Foyt team rarely showed speed this weekend and the cars of Ed Carpenter Racing had their own issues, partly due to the fact that Zach Veach was making his IndyCar debut while subbing for the injured JR Hildebrand.

So it may be too soon t say that Chevy will be just fine. While Team Penske was dominant throughout the weekend, the rest of the Chevy powered cars were non-factors. Honda showed more consistent strength from top to bottom. We’ll see what happens at Phoenix next weekend.

Marco woes: Once again, most of you probably know the answer to this but I don’t. What in the world happened to Marco Andretti? He finished dead last and three laps down to everyone except for Spencer Pigot, who brought out the second caution when he spun in Turn Six. Even Pigot finished two laps ahead of Marco.

Marco was fast through al three practices prior to qualifying, but as has become a pattern lately – he faded in qualifying and didn’t make it out of the first round of qualifying. Three of the four Andretti cars carried blank sidepods this weekend, including Marco’s. Performances like that make sponsorship on the No.27 car a tough sale, even if your name is Andretti.

Drive of the day: Josef Newgarden drove a great race and won, after starting seventh. He passed a lot of fast cars early on and ran in second place behind Will Power for most of the day until Power suffered a flat tire late in the race.

Alexander Rossi also had a good run, after starting eighteenth to finish fifth – making up more positions than anyone.

But I think that Graham Rahal had the drive of the day. He started last after a disastrous qualifying effort, but ended up in thirteenth place. He worked hard while mired in the back of the field. He kept his head down and earned every bit of that thirteenth place finish. It seems that Rahal has been a slow starter for the past couple of seasons. If he can have a good result in Phoenix Saturday night, he can still be in good shape heading into the Month of May. This is not a scientific study, but based more on my gut and opinion.

All in all: I have been guilty of gushing about Barber Motorsports Park being a “gorgeous facility”. But t seems that those that make snarky comments about that term have never been there. Those that have been there know what I‘m talking about. From the random and obscure statues and other unique objects, to the manicured flower beds – Barber stresses the small things and pays attention to every detail. That’s why fans rave about the whole complex and the way they do things. And for those that say there is no passing on this track, I saw tons of passing from my location on the bridge.

As the Verizon IndyCar Series heads west to Phoenix for the first oval of the season, Sébastien Bourdais and Dale Coyne Racing still lead the points standings after three races. But it’s really tightening up. Scott Dixon is only six points behind Bourdais and Josef Newgarden is only one point behind Dixon.

So I’ll close with this; If you live within an eight hour drive of Barber Motorsports Park, you should seriously consider coming to this race. It is a slower-paced experience than some of the other races on the schedule. I’ll promise you, if you ever go to the IndyCar race at Barber, you’ll want to come back again and again.

George Phillips

Newgarden Wins Again At Barber

Posted in IndyCar on April 23, 2017 by Oilpressure

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For the second time in three years, Josef Newgarden leaves Alabama as a champion. The Nashville product earned his first-ever IndyCar win two years ago while driving for CFH Racing. Today, he won his fourth IndyCar race overall and his first while driving for Roger Penske. It took Simon Pagenaud a year and three races for him to win his first at Team Penske. It took Newgarden just three races to pay The Captain back for hiring him. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to say that it won’t be the last.

Granted, he was the beneficiary of Will Power having a tire puncture late in the race but that’s what you do. You put yourself in a position to to win when the situation presents itself – and that’s exactly what happened.

Newgarden started the race in seventh position. It didn’t take long for him to move up the order. Before I knew it, he had worked his way up to second and spent the majority of the race following Power. In the last half of the race, it appeared that Scott Dixon had something for Newgarden. Power, Newgarden and Dixon were riding around together and Dixon was closing.

When Spencer Pigot spun in Turn Six, bringing out the second of two caution periods – the leaders pitted. When they came back out, Dixon got out ahead of Newgarden. But Newgarden made a great pass at the west end of the course and was back in second. Shortly thereafter, Power suffered his puncture and Newgarden took the lead and that was it.

This was a popular victory with the locals, since Nashville is just three hours up the road. I imagine it will resonate well with most fans. Josef Newgarden is quickly becoming one of the most marketable faces of IndyCar. He is very popular among fans. From what I gather, he s also popular among his fellow competitors.

Congratulations to Josef Newgarden. I think he might start getting used to this. Here are a few shots from victory lane of the celebration that followed.

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That will do it for us here at the track. We are going to get on the road, but I will have my usual Monday morning race re-cap – so please check back Monday morning. Thanks for following along all weekend and check back Monday.

George Phillips

Final Practice & Alonso At Barber

Posted in IndyCar on April 23, 2017 by Oilpressure

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The final warm-up for the Verizon IndyCar Series was delayed a few minutes for a track repair after the Porsche GT3 race this morning. Marco Andretti paced the field with a time of 1:14.3711; almost eight seconds slower than Will Power’s pole time set yesterday. Of course, this practice was run in the wet with rain tires. From the looks of things, the race will have a dry start later today – but that’s just a guess. Another cloudburst will change that.

The second and third quickest cars were also Hondas, Scott Dixon and Alexander Rossi respectively. Spencer Pigot paced the Chevy brigade as the fourth quickest car, while Ryan Hunter-Reay rounded out the Top-Five.

The Penske cars that have been so dominant over the weekend were led by Will Power in sixth and Josef Newgarden as the seventh quickest car. Max Chilton, Conor Daly and Graham Rahal completed the Top-Ten.

What does all of this mean? Absolutely nothing. Morning warmups rarely point to anything significant, even less so in the rain. I’m expecting the Penske cars to run up front all day, but I still stand by my prediction that Scott Dixon will win. But I’m still impressed how Josef Newgarden as been consistently up front in every session. I will not be surprised to see the Nashville native standing atop the Baber podium for the second time in three races here.

I was lucky enough to attend the Fernando Alonso press conference here on the grounds a 11:00. Unlike what we hear about the elite drivers in Formula One, he was funny and seemed humbled by the task in front of him next month.

When asked what his peers thought, he said he didn’t know because he never talked to them. He said t’s a different world over there. When asked how it will be racing against Juan Montoya, he asked “will he be up front?” The room busted out laughing.

Other than a few signs of a very dry wit and god sense of humor, he said all the right things. During the press conference, I was able to take a shot of Alonso flanked by Mark Miles, Michael Andretti and Zak Brown. Then I got one of him leaving the room with Michael Andretti.

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That’s going to do it for now. I’ll be back here for a quick wrap-up after the race and then I’ll have my usual “Random Thoughts” post here on Monday. In the meantime, follow me on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure. Check back here after the race.

George Phillips

The Wine Made Me Do It

Posted in IndyCar on April 23, 2017 by Oilpressure

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By Susan Phillips

When you write the “color” pieces for a blog, it becomes more and more difficult to think of things to write about. I have written about Barber Motorsports Park many times over the years, and while it is still beautiful, and a definite “put this on my list of tracks to visit–you can only show a picture of the guys on the wheels statue so many times before it becomes old hat.

Finally, we met our friend Lynn Weinberg and her husband, Bruce, at the Fan Village—as we had been Facebook friends and Twitter buddies for several years. I believe I have met my twin sister from another mother in Lynn. It’s probably best that we don’t live near each other because I suspect we could get into a lot of trouble. We wandered around the Fan Village and became thirsty, so we each got a mini-can of sparkling wine. Then we wandered around a bit more until Honda announced they were giving away two-seater rides. I have always wanted to see this track from a driver’s perspective, so I was IN! I signed up and got my picture taken and got chosen (I do have a big mouth when it comes down to it) to go on stage. Lynn was also chosen. Little did we know that we would have to do a dance-off to win the ride.

Six people made it up on the stage for the first round. The music started and I totally rocked it–not really, if you count having the moves from Saturday Night Fever and April the Giraffe giving birth combined. Surprise—it paid off—I made it to the final round. After a short break for CPR, we showed our moves.

What I think I look like…

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What I actually look like…

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Sadly, I was a runner-up and the guy who won the two-seater did not even know how to pronounce Hinch’s name—but that’s how fans are born. I look forward to seeing how it goes for him in this morning. The other dancer and I got runner’s up prizes—which were AWESOME—Pace Car Rides! I can’t wait. Lynn had already scheduled a pace car ride around the track this morning, so we will be together again. I hope we don’t cause any track incidents because it will be hard to say at 10 am that the “wine made us do it.”

It’s Race Day At Barber Motorsports Park!

Posted in IndyCar on April 23, 2017 by Oilpressure

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Good morning from a rain-soaked Barber Motorsports Park. As predicted, the storms went through last night, first appearing around 6:30. They were supposed to be cleared out by 6:00 am. That didn’t happen. It is still misting as I type, but this is a road course so there will be racing today. In fact, there is racing going on right now as the Porsche GT3 race is going on.

The radar looks as if this will clear out before the green flag drops for the Verizon IndyCar Series race at 2:30.

I will wrap this up as Susan has a post that needs to go up here in a few minutes about something very interesting going on for her this morning. I won’t steal her thunder and let her tell about it in a few. Then I’ll be back here (hopefully) before the IndyCar race. Please follow me for photos, etc on Twitter at @Oilpressureblog, or Susan at @MrsOilpressure.

Check back in a few.

George Phillips

The Barber Grid Is Now Set

Posted in IndyCar on April 22, 2017 by Oilpressure

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The grid for tomorrow’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama is now set. This appears to be the most “normal” starting grid we have had in the first three races of the season. Team Penske has pretty much dominated every session here this weekend and qualifying was no exception.

Will Power will start on the pole alongside Helio Castroneves. Their Penske teammate, Simon Pagenaud will start third. Josef Newgarden was the only Penske driver to not make the Firestone Fast Six, but he will still start seventh. The first non-Penske driver on the grid is Scott Dixon, who will start fourth on the outside of Row Two.

Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe will make up Row Three. That means the top three cars on the grid were all Chevys and the next three were Hondas. Mikhail Aleshin, Max Chilton and Tony Kanaan will round out the Top-Ten, giving Honda seven of the first ten cars on the grid, but Chevy got the first three.

The weather is the biggest story. As I type, it’s still sunny and 82-degrees. But the radar shows the predicted storms are almost here. I just checked the weather in Nashville, just three hours to the north. It’s rainy and 54-degrees. We are all prepared for much cooler temps for tomorrow. That will effect the cars significantly. There will be a thirty minute warm-up in the morning to make some quick adjustments and that’s it. It should prove quite interesting in the race tomorrow.

Here’s a quick photo I took of of Helio Castroneves in qualifying and a very short ten-second video of Will Power on his run for the pole.

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That’s going to do it for today. Tomorrow, Susan will have a very interesting article on what she did today and how it paid off for Sunday. Thanks for following along so far all weekend, and please check back here early tomorrow.

George Phillips

Practice Three Done, Qualifying Next

Posted in IndyCar on April 22, 2017 by Oilpressure

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Practice Three for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama was more normal than what we have seen in the previous two races of the young 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. It’s looking more and more like Team Penske has this track figured out. Does this mean the winning car on Sunday will come from Team Penske? Not necessarily, but chances are good that Chevy may pick up its first win of the season.

Four of the Top-Five cars in this morning’s practice were Chevy powered Penske cars, with the first three all running for The Captain. Will Power was the quickest with a time of 1:06.9953. Josef Newgarden was about a tenth of a second off of Power’s time, but still was good enough for second quick. Helio Castroneves came in third quickest for the session. Mikhail Aleshin was the fastest Honda and Simon Pagenaud rounded out the Top-Five.

The last five cars were all Hondas; starting with James Hinchcliffe, Scott Dixon, Marco Andretti, Graham Rahal and Max Chilton. Tony Kanaan, who has been curiously slow all weekend could only manage fourteenth quickest in the final practice before qualifying.

Speaking of Simon Pagenaud, I had forgotten that he was given a penalty in qualifying at Long Beach. That carried over to this race where he will have the very last and undesired last pit on pit road. I spotted his pit among the usual backmarkers and it looked a little odd.

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I took a few shots before and during practice. One was of the red and black car of Mikhail Aleshin. I didn’t realize the red on his car was reflective like Hinch’s gold Arrow car. It doesn’t show up as much on television, but it really looks striking in person.

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I caught this shot of James Hinchlffe’s crew huddled around his pitted car. At the time, he was running twentieth. They must have done something right. When he went back out he suddenly shot up to the second spot on the speed chart. He ended the session as the sixth quickest car.

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Just before practice, I caught two of the NBC guys, Marty Snider and Townsend Bell relaxing near the Penske garage. Paul Tracy was just out f the shot signing autographs.

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As you can see from this shot, it is a cloudy day here and quite windy. The radar is not looking good either, but this was predicted. I just hope it will hold off until after qualifying is over around 4:30. Tomorrow looks to be sunny but much cooler. The high probably will not reach sixty-five. The predicted wind will make it feel cooler than that. Throw whatever data the teams gathered in hot weather this weekend out the window. Race Day will be much cooler.

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Anyway, that’ll do it for now. I’ll have a finial wrap-up today after qualifying. For now, we’re headed to the Fan Zone across the track. Please follow me on Twitter @Oilpressureblog or Susan at @MrsOilpressure for photos and comments. Please check back later after qualifying.

George Phillips